Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana;
Comrades and Friends;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Thank you for inviting me to close the second meeting of the Convention of South Africa. I am deeply honoured by the request and encouraged by the existence of this influential civic and religious forum.
I am immensely heartened to see the many religious and civil society representatives gathered here today. The past few days have seen critical interventions by key figures within our civil society and political landscape, including:
Mr Sello Hatang
Mrs Graça Machel
Mr Mandla Langa
Professor Ivor Chipkin
Ms Sibongile Mkhabela
Mr Thembekile Kimi Makwetu
Professor Barney Pityana
Prof. Wiseman Nkuhlu, and
Dr Mamphela Ramphele, among numerous significant individuals who have convened here.
On this day, last year, citizens of South Africa were deep in the throes of woe; receiving reports about the nature and wide reach of the State Capture phenomenon from prominent media outlets. It was a time when our leadership had a different face; and a moment characterised by a sombre national mood, coloured by distress and discontent.
With such reflections in mind, one is tempted to quote the lines of Bob Dylan’s popular protest refrain:
‘There’s a battle outside
And it is raging
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changing’
As we settle into our 24th year in democracy, we have found that the rolling winds of time are no guarantor of the achievement of profound progress. And indeed, the realities that affect that afflict the post-Apartheid South African landscape today prove change can take on nebulous proportions, as victories and stagnancies are coexistent.
Thus we are challenged to take stock of our nation, with clarity of vision about the future that we are jointly pursuing.
In light of the past two days of discourse, debate and dialogue, the questions that underscore my reflections today are:
Where to from here, and, what are the actions required in order to move our country forward?
What is clear is that the future will not arrive fully-formed, and flawless; its contours shaped by idealism and ideas. The future must be tended to and shaped by our collective hands, as we mould our reality into the inclusive dimensions of freedom, justice and equality that our Constitution calls for.
Consequently, my address today focuses on four prescripts to our Constitution in thinking about the journey towards this emancipated and humanistic future.
These prescripts ask the collective South African society to:
- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations”.
It is this petition that underscores the creation of the National Convention of South Africa. The process that you have jointly undertaken here asks difficult questions about the structural nature of power and privilege in our country, interrogative the values and standards of our society, and the quality and character of our democracy.
Therefore it is addressing the structural nature of our challenges that deserves our most urgent attention; forming the broad strokes of my reflections here today.
The National Convention process holds us all accountable and responsible for ensuring that the Constitutional values that founded our democratic state are not set asunder, falling victim to power, supremacy and avarice.
As General Secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana stated, upon the founding of the Convention, we collectively comprise the custodians of our country and as such, the responsibility for it is not the sole province of politicians.
The National Convention process is therefore organised around the theme: ‘Reimagining, Redesigning and Reorganising South Africa, against the backdrop of recent events and with a long view towards the future.
I must commend the convenors upon the establishment of this Convention. I am optimistic about the future of South Africa, particularly given the rise of various civic formations that have sought to hold our leaders across sectors accountable, amidst present realities. Collectively, we must seek to create a country that mirrors our Constitution and a society that cares for and protects marginalised groups.
The National Convention process was designed to arrive at consensus on a way forward from disparate groups and individuals, working towards intersecting ends. It was engineered to arrive at public consensus on the values and standards that should inform the policy options and decision taken towards and inclusive, dignified and completely liberated reality for all South Africans, as deigned by our Constitution.
The four thematic areas that have been the focus of the past two days, support and intersect with the Constitutional requirements I previously referred to.
It is clear that Anchoring Democracy,
Promoting Healing and Reconciliation,
Pursuing Economic Transformation and
Prioritising Comprehensive Quality Education comprise the foundations for a reimagined vision for South Africa and ‘a shared, reconciled citizenship’.
Constructing a way forward demands the identification of broad themes that will act as anchors in our planning – and it is clear that these thematic areas are central to advancing the cause of our Constitution.
Programme Director, if we are to heal historic divisions and build a society rooted in democratic values of social justice and the protection of human rights for all – as the Constitution calls us to – we need to address structural inequality.
As Judith Favish pointed out, speaking about the work undertaken by the Mandela Initiative: we are grappling with the legacy of colonialism, apartheid and slavery that sees poverty and inequality structured along racial and gendered lines and informed by other aspects of identity. Consequently citizenship is experienced in strata.
Structural inequality is pervasive, evident across the length and breadth of our country, and as Favish highlighted; the continuities of the past have been further propelled in our present by the policy choices that have been made in the democratic era.
Improving quality of life and ensuring that all citizens reach their potential freed from the shackles of the past is dependent on addressing these continuities – the effect of which are felt across generations.
Thus a way forward requires the understanding that the advancement of democracy and achievement of social cohesion hinges on redress in all forms. This requires achieving gender equality, abolishing the legacy of racial discrimination, redistributing land, among many other challenges that must be addressed.
In working towards this, the matter of planning becomes significant.
As the Former Statistician General Pali Lehohla pointed out at the Drakensberg Inclusive Growth Forum, evidence based research exists in the form of the work undertaken by Statistics South Africa. However, these are improperly used in matters of planning and the issue of proper planning itself deserves urgent attention, as we journey towards building a just, equal, equitable, non-racist and non-sexist South Africa.
Such planning must privilege the marginalised in its aims, and most critically the youth of our country. It is for future generations that we ‘Labour under the sign of the future’, to loan a phrase from African American artist Ayana V. Jackson.
The second quarter labour force survey notes that national unemployment is at 27.2% or 6.1 million people, while expanded unemployment stands at 37.2% or 9 million people. Many of the unemployed form part of the country’s youth population – faced with futures that seems worlds apart from the promises of our Constitution.
Charting a way forward requires putting implementable plans in place to address the potential and prospects of our country’s youth – from Early Childhood Development to basic and tertiary education and employment that takes into account the changing landscape occasioned by the 4th Industrial Revolution.
What I have presented here are broad brushstrokes that I hope will prove beneficial as the National Convention process continues its vital work, and we seek the fullest realisation of a just, equal, equitable, non-racist and non-sexist South Africa that is truly reconciled and reflects of our Constitution.
In the spirit of this gathering, I close with words from Amos Chapter Five, Verse 24. These are words that resonate beyond denominations, religions and belief systems, and reverberate with our vision for a reimagined, renewed and restored South Africa characterised by ethical leadership
“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”
Thank you for your kind attention.